Sustainable Cities

Course by Pitt-Johnstown Professor Ola Johansson, PhD

Amsterdam is regarded as a global leader in green urbanism. The city is well known for its alternative transportation system that focuses on biking and light rail. But it is also on the forefront of many other endeavors, such as green building, a comprehensive park and greenspace network, water management, and an energy system transitioning away from fossil fuel.

Are you interested?

This is a University of Pittsburgh study abroad course called Sustainable Cities (divided into two 3-credit segments called Sustainable Cities 1 and 2). I offer the course in a two-year rotation. The upcoming course is planned for May 2019. This link has more information about registering for the course: The application deadline is January 20, 2019. The course is open to all students in the University of Pittsburgh system. If you’re interested, you can also contact me at If you’re interested in study abroad in general, check out Pitt-Johnstown Study Abroad or Pitt Study Abroad.

I previously taught the course in May 2017. One element of the course is for each student to write a research paper on a topic related to Amsterdam as a sustainable city. To showcase the research that the 2017 students did, below are short abstracts and links to the full papers. After an introduction to Amsterdam, chapters 2-4 deals with transportation issues in Amsterdam. Chapters 5-6 explore water management, while chapters 7-10 address environmental policies in Amsterdam and the Netherlands. The remaining papers (chapters 11-14) deal with a variety of other sustainability topics.

1. Introduction to Amsterdam – An Urbanization Perspective. Nicole Mallett. Page 1-5.

The introduction takes into account the historical and contemporary development of Amsterdam. An emphasis is placed on the spatial structures of the city and its built environment. In the late 20th century, Amsterdam changed from a city with a declining population base, to a growing and increasingly affluent city. The city center has gentrified while peripheral neighborhoods are often multicultural and less affluent.

2. The Emergence of Amsterdam’s Public Transit System: Lessons Learned for American Cities. Daniel McGrath. Page 6-11.

Public transportation is critical to the day-to-day operations of the Dutch people. This is especially true in the city of Amsterdam, the Netherland’s capital and most populous city. This chapter analyzes the history and emergence of Amsterdam’s public transportation system in order to gain insights on how American cities could apply Dutch principles to their public transportation networks.

3. Limitations of Public Transportation: A Perspective from Outside A10. Mara LeJeune. Page 12-18.

Amsterdam has well-developed light rail system and bicycle networks. However, is this enough to keep the residents on the outskirts of the city from commuting by car? This chapter explored how easy it is to live farther from the city center – outside the A10 ring road that separates the center from the suburbs – without a car.

4. The Sustainability of Amsterdam’s Ferries. George Tawfik. Page 19-26.

The north side of Amsterdam is separated from the rest of the city by the IJ River. Many of the residents in Amsterdam Noord commute via a public ferry system that crosses the river. The goal of this study is to evaluate the ferry travel in order to determine its level of sustainability. This study models the emissions and energy use of the ferry traffic as well as alternative modes of transportation available in Amsterdam. The ferries are in comparison relative low emission and low energy use.

5. Water Management and Changing Values: The Netherlands’ Relationship with Land and Sea over the Last Millennium. Hannah Blume. Page 27-35.

This chapter explores how needs and values in the Netherlands have shifted through the lens of water management and land creation. After a brief history of water management, two modern-day projects are discussed to exemplify contemporary concerns and action. Today’s focus on sustainability and environmental conservation is being addressed through actual development projects. 

6. City on Top of the Rain. Andrew Baker. Page 36-41.

This chapter investigates to what extent rainfall has increased in Amsterdam using statistical analysis. The increase of annual precipitation is not statistically significant, although the number of high-rainfall events are problematic. Applications such green roofs and spaces, as well as parking lots made out of porous materials, allow water to infiltrate, which mitigates potential flooding.

7. Sustainability in Policy: Amsterdam and the Netherlands. Julie Darden. Page 42-47.

This chapter examines both national and municipal policies in order to determine whether there is a difference between how the Netherlands handles sustainability-related issues compared to the city of Amsterdam. Amsterdam has recently adopted a sustainability plan while the Netherlands plan to implement a new Environment and Planning Act. These policies may affect the spatial planning process and consequential design of Amsterdam and the Netherlands.

8. The Effectiveness of the Dutch Climate Goals. Isabelle Weber. Page 48-54.

The Dutch government has set several goals to become more sustainable. I have found that by applying initiatives to both the local and the national level, the country has been effective at meeting its goals. However, while the Netherlands has been an international voice for addressing climate change, the domestic use of fossil fuel (mainly natural gas) still remains high.

9. Amsterdam’s Energy Atlas: An Investigation of Project Value and Functionality Following Three Years of Operation. Dillion Asher. Page 55-61.

Local technology platforms facilitate collaboration between sustainability practitioners, businesses, knowledge institutions, and municipal government. This chapter explores policy actions associated with efforts to more accurately measure municipal-level energy use, specifically the so-called Energy Atlas project.

10. Pursuit of Profits and Sustainability in the Dutch State. With Insight for the United States. Nicole Mallett. Page 62-69.

This chapter examines the causes underlying support of sustainable policy and development by the Netherlands’ national government and the municipal government of Amsterdam. I argue that the motivations perpetuating sustainable development relate to the pursuit of profits. Unlike in the United States, a consensus exists that sustainable development is in the best economic interest of the country.

11. A Social View on Sustainability.  Zoe Au. Page 70-76.

This study seeks to investigate the causes of sustainable behaviors, specifically if a correlation exists between societal norms and the frequency of engaging in sustainable behaviors. Through a survey, 16 students at the University of Amsterdam were asked about their behavior. They were then asked how people around them felt if they engaged in these activities. The results could not show a correlation between the purportedly environmentalist societal norms of the Netherlands and sustainable actions on the individual level.

12. Sustainable Solutions to Amsterdam’s Housing Issue. Devyn King. Page 77-84.

Amsterdam faces a housing crisis with regards to affordability and shortage. Rather than expanding outward to accommodate more people, Amsterdam planners, legislators, and policy makers have enacted a variety of policies to ensure sustainable growth. The new objective is to reuse urban land and densification rather than to expand beyond existing boundaries.

13. Is Tourism Sustainable? The Case of Amsterdam. Simone Norden. Page 85-90.

Harnessing tourism to make a positive environmental impact is a trend that has exploded in the past decade. In this chapter, I explore the ways in which people can practice sustainable tourism as well as how cities, specifically Amsterdam, can accommodate tourists while maintaining sustainable development.

14. The Growth of the Innovation Scene in the Netherlands as it Relates to Sustainability. Rachael White. Page 91-96.

In this chapter, I address how Amsterdam is a city of innovation with particular emphasis on sustainability innovation. To synthesize information from the literature and the site visits, I found that there has certainly been an increase in innovative ventures and startups in the city of Amsterdam and the Netherlands as a whole, particularly since the world economic collapse in 2008.